CULTURE

Seasoned stage actress takes on three different roles in Athens and Patras

After 30 years in the theater and a steady presence defined by eclectic choices, Sofia Seirli is the kind of leading actress every troupe would like to have in its ranks. This season, she will take on two different roles at once in a comedy directed by Vassilis Papavassiliou, «If One Winter Night,» at the Regional and Peripheral Theater of Patras, as well as that of a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s in Ayub Khan-Din’s «Notes on Falling Leaves,» directed by Effi Theodorou at the Aplo theater. Does the latter play trace the development of the illness? It’s more a cry about the lack of contact, human warmth and the inability to communicate. I was glad when Antonis Antypas asked me to work with him, just as I was glad to collaborate with Effi Theodorou again. We’d already worked together in a one-act Beckett play, while Seferis’s «Six Nights on the Acropolis,» a State Theater of Northern Greece production, is due to be presented in Delphi this summer. The author raises the problem of communication, a major issue of our time. Does the idea of illness or death scare you? I’m not afraid of the idea of dying while being up on my own two feet anymore. What scares me is the degradation that comes with illness. Perhaps I’m exorcising my fears with this role. All these fears disappear completely, however, when I play the other two roles in the Papavassiliou production, it’s like going from darkness to light. But that’s the kind of gift the theater offers. Another reason I’m enjoying the Regional and Peripheral Theater of Patras performance so much is because it allowed me to get together again with Papavassiliou. Don’t you feel like a bit of a yoyo, spending Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in one theater and the rest of the week in another, interpreting different roles? In the words of Papavassiliou, I’m a repertoire woman. There’s something else he says, which I like: He says that actors have to be humble and transparent. I don’t mind interpreting the roles of ungraceful, ugly and sick women. Perhaps there’s some kind of narcissism in all this, but in a reverse kind of way. So that at the end of the play, people come up to me and say, «You look fine.» I like to mess up my image a little bit, to step all over narcissism. You have lived through three different theatrical decades, beginning with the Elefthero Theatro in 1975. What has defined each one? Television, which has taken over everything. You have to «sell.» I’m not «selling» right now, which explains why neither television nor commercial theater companies come knocking at my door. I’m not part of the system. A lot of young kids say, «I’ll do some television in order to get into theater.» Theater, however, is a way of life. And that is precisely why it’s so impoverished right now. What worries you and angers you? I’m worried about the fact that very few productions are actually any good these days. I’m worried that the theater-loving audience has not grown and that the state is indifferent. What about on a more personal level? I don’t stress about the future. I’ve reached a certain point at which I have nothing to prove. That sounds a little bit like giving up… Don’t take it the wrong way. It’s just that I’m not competing for first place, for the season, for security. I’ve lived through all this, it’s not foreign to me. Do you have any idea how amusing it is when they don’t know who you are? I was playing with Emilios Hilakis in Patras and a young girl who had come to the theater to see him said to me, «You’re very good, even though you’re not on television.» Yet haven’t you also done some television work in the past? In any case, I don’t get any calls anymore. I had been involved with the writing of a couple of series, starting with director Panos Kokkinopoulos, who is very meticulous. Yet despite all the scripts, as far as television went, I was always an actress. Never a part. It’s an act of recognition. However, I was never one of those people who was part of the system. What attracts you to the theater? An intriguing part. In the last few years, it also has to do with whom I’m working. How they look at things. Are you drawn to the theater as much as you were in the beginning? Yes, because I have now discovered the beauty of rehearsals and how enjoyable it is to actually be on stage. Now that I don’t feel the need to prove anything to exist. I look at theater in a very innocent way, even though my age is nothing but innocent. Are there things that you haven’t done yet? I’m full of energy, just like a teenager. I discovered innocence through knowledge, along with the joy of being an amateur when I directed a play for a cultural association in Anixi. Having reached an age when I can put an end to all this, my appetite is even greater. In any case, I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. Is it easier or harder for young actors nowadays? You can turn into a leading actor overnight, provided you’re cute and with a little bit of luck. If on top of it you’re bright, then perhaps you can manage to keep some kind of balance. It’s not easy to keep it going, however. When I started, I had to compete with Greek cinema. Then, in the 1980s, it was all about forming small troupes. At the time, Anna Makraki, myself and a few others were a little bit too old to be defined as leading ladies. Things became rather confusing in the 1990s: While it appeared that theater was doing well, the private television mentality took over, on the one hand, while on other, everybody was trying to run their own troupe. That’s how we reached today’s dead end: Now they all have their «warehouse» in which they lead their own cast. Aplo Theater, 4 Harilaou Trikoupi, tel 210.922.9605.